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‘Payroll, Payroll, Payroll’: Restauranteurs say Biden’s $28B will help industry rebound but it’ll go quickly

President Biden’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund is now accepting applications for small mom-and-pop shops to access the $28.6B allocated to the industry.
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‘Payroll. Payroll. Payroll.’: Restauranteurs say Biden’s $28B will help industry rebound but will go quickly
Posted at 7:49 PM, May 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 20:01:02-04

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — When Chef Jenna learned about the White House allocating $28.6 billion to the restaurant industry through the American Rescue Plan, she was more nervous than thrilled.

“We kind of have a little panic attack every time we see anyone’s going to talk about what the future holds for us because no one’s been hit harder than restaurants,” said Chef Jenna, who’s full name is Jenna Arcidiacono. “So, after the year we’ve had it just keeps getting worse. It’s like how many more punches can we take.”

Chef Jenna owns Amore Trattoria Italiana on Alpine Avenue, a place typically packed from open to close. However, since the pandemic began over a year ago, they’ve had to close for weeks then re-open to limited capacity, abiding by the state’s guidelines.

“We’re a mom and pop shop. We love people. We love our staff. We wanted to make sure they had a job throughout all this,” Chef Jenna said during an interview with FOX 17 on Monday. “We never shutdown. We did to-go the whole time even though it was scary. We’re frontline workers. A lot of people don’t recognize us as frontline workers but we have not stopped.”

They, like many restaurants in the state and country, lost revenue. However, President Joe Biden’s $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund through the American Rescue Plan may help them rebound.

“Well, it’s critical and fundamentally necessary for the restaurant industry that — especially in Michigan — is still struggling,” said Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Sales were down 57 percent year over year for this industry. And, we’re still operating with occupancy restrictions and will be for the foreseeable future.”

So, any relief helps, he said during a phone interview on Tuesday. The MRLA has 5,000 members and since they heard about the fund they’ve posted webinars for their group to learn more about it. They’ve also been encouraging them to apply for it as soon as possible.

“$28 billion dollars sounds like it’s a fair amount of money to help this industry. But the [Small Business Administration] estimates the demand to be over $150 billion,” Winslow added. “So we have certainly encouraged our members to apply as quickly as you possibly can and to get in line as quickly as you can because that money is going to go very, very fast.”

And, it’s on a first come first served basis after it goes to groups that the SBA defines as disadvantaged.

“Anyone who’s female-owned business or veteran-owned business gets first access to these resources for 21 days,” he said. “After that period what remains of the fund, of the $28.6 billion is eligible to any restaurant that met the overall qualifications, meaning you have to demonstrate loss year over year.”

Specifically, he said restaurants have to take their 2019 gross average or receipts and subtract the 2020 receipts, and money received from PPP loans, and the result is how much money they qualify for.

Chef Jenna said she’s going to check with her accountant about how much she’d get if she applies. Nevertheless, she knows automatically where that money will go.

“Staffing is our No. 1 thing,” Chef Jenna said. “So, if we can spend that money on payroll, which is what it should be used for any way, that would be our No. 1 place it would go. Payroll. Payroll. Payroll. 100 percent.”

She said many of her peers and friends in the industry are struggling to hire staff. According to the Bureau Labor and Statistics, the hospitality industry lost 8,200,000 jobs -- or half of its workforce -- during the first few months of the pandemic. As of March 2021, ‘employment is 3.1 million lower than its pre-pandemic level.’

Chef Jenna is hoping to see some familiar faces return to Amore. However, in the meantime, she's also hoping high school kids will walk in and apply as well.

“Gosh, that would be amazing. Send them to us,” Chef Jenna said. “We would love to teach them what it’s like to be a part of a team. They know about sports teams, let’s teach them about work teams. They’re going to have to learn to work at some point. Let’s get them started now at a local mom and pop shop.”

***To apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, click here.***